A few years ago, Jerry Brown finally moved into the Governor’s Mansion on 16st and H in Sacramento.
No doubt the Governor thought he was moving into an elegant “Mansion.”
Little did he know he was moving into a child’s wonderland of endless delights.
I know, because I spent the first six Christmas’s of my life, sliding on the rugs, playing hide and seek behind the red velvet curtains, sliding down the banister and cavorting in the kitchen with the staff as they let me and my brothers lick the icing off the egg beaters while preparing Mama Warren’s famous Angle food cakes. Root beer floats in the kitchen? My first Christmas memory.
As a little child, the most exciting day of the year was Christmas Eve, when my father, Jim Pop, piled us into the car and drove from the Bay Area up to the Governor’s Mansion, where Papa and Mama Warren and our five uncles and aunts would spoil us with attention.
To a little kid, everything in that Italianate Victorian built in 1877 by Albert Gallatin, was oversized. It started with the Christmas tree which went “all the way to the top.” The windows seemed to go from floor to 16 foot ceilings. The curtains were higher than a basketball rim. The cupola was 6 stories up and looked over the entire city. It was scary to climb with no banister at the top.
Speaking of banisters, the main stairway had an almost S-shaped bannister, which was perfect for sliding down. I’m sure my brother never meant to smash that vase at the bottom when he gained so much speed he couldn’t stop.
Papa Warren used to take his kids boar hunting on Santa Catalina Island, and Earl Jr. (Ju Ju) had a boar’s head mounted on a dresser in his room. We used to go in there in the dark, turn on the lights, and scream while fleeing with fright when we saw it staring down on us with its huge tusks.
Bobby (Re-Bob) had a football in his room which he let me touch–no small deal in a home where nothing was to be touched!
Our aunts, Plooch (Virginia), Dottie (Dorothy) , and Honeybear (Nina) were teens or in college. They used to sneak out on the fire escape off Dottie’s bathroom, to smoke cigarettes. Sometimes they let us watch them, high above the manicured gardens. How exciting was that?
We could take off our shoes and slide in our socks on the hard wood floors or jump on the small Persian rugs and skid across the hall.
The basement held trunks of costumes (actually, fabrics, clothes, gifts and artifacts from trips abroad) so we could go down and dress up with Shriners hats and perform plays for the grown ups.
The security force was housed in a separate building outside. They would show us their guns and Pat Patterson, Papa Warren’s personal bodyguard (an African American, who probably had more to do with Brown vs. Board of Education than anyone understands—but that’s another story), used to pin his badge on me and let me wear it.
My favorite Christmas present was the tube of toothpaste, with TV star Hop-a-long Cassidy’s picture, complete with Hop-a-long Cassidy tooth brush. I immediately dashed into the downstairs powder room to brush my teeth without opening any other presents. Do you remember a time when you couldn’t wait to brush your teeth?
We would gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols. We knew all the words to all of them—even if we sang a bit off tune.
And there was the family dinner when we sat around one table and Papa Warren beamed with pride at what he’d wrought.
It was a simpler time.
I have no doubt that Governor Brown will enjoy his stay at the Governor’s mansion. But if he has any young grand children, I can promise from the basement below to the Cupola six stories up, they will enjoy it even more.